Boffey, Philip M. "Cancer Progress: Are the Statistics Telling the Truth?" New York Times, 18
September 1984, pp. C1, C5.
Here is the lead article in the Science Times asking the pertinent question of the headline: Can
the statistics on cancer be trusted? This article suggests nothing more than the fact that there are
disagreements, different interpretations of the data which are available. It does not go into any
detail nor does it accuse anyone of misrepresentation.
This reporter has it that there are some who report that cancer is being "contained" and
"controlled," if not "cured." For example, the Director of the National Cancer Institute thinks that
we are doing a bang-up job. Vincent DeVita goes so far as to question those who question the
data. He has it that things are going well, that patients with cancer are living longer, that
treatment is effective, that medicine is winning the war. But what else could one expect from the
man who makes his living managing the millions government spends in its continuing War On
Cancer? Could he say that his agency is losing the war? Can he be a neutral evaluator?
There are biostatisticians who question the rosy picture painted by the statistics which show
improvement in life expectancy. There is nothing new in indicating, for example, that improved
diagnoses make possible earlier detection and that the "five-year" survival is the result of any
improved discovery. The "longevity" may be due to earlier diagnoses. Another possible artifact:
there is the identification of cancer-like tissue with cancer. This is the result of the tendency to
see cancer just about everywhere. These cancer-like tissues do not kill even if they are counted as
cases of cancer. Third, the registering of survivors has greatly improved. There are various
groups, including the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, which are
interested, for their own reasons, in showing improvements. The apparent gains in survival rates
show that these agencies are spending more attention on reporting successes.
The point: those who wish to see cancer "controlled" have their facts, and those who see The
War on Cancer as a war being lost, have their data. Here we have a report of the existence of the
two groups with their different data sets. It should come as no surprise that scientists variously
interpret data. In fact, they generate the data which they then interpret. Most likely, the data
interpretation was expected and came before the data were generated.